Hurricane Descends on the ’Sco
around 7 p.m. on Wednesday, a hulking purple tour bus slowly crept
its way into an impossibly tight parking space behind Wilder Hall.
That bus, along with another one, housed the members of the 2002
lineup of the Cali Comm Tour, an underground hip-hop juggernaut
with all the energy of a hurricane that Oberlin would be rocked
by, shocked by and loved by. And as a night marked by unrelenting
energy, creativity and largely positive messages progressed, little
by little, and then finally a lot by a lot, in the true spirit of
hip-hop, Oberlin gave that love back.
A small white piece of paper hanging on the side of the ’Sco’s
stage suggested, with its schedule of how long each act would be
on, a neat and tidy affair that would be over at 12:50. Even before
opening act Lifesavaz took the stage, there was doubt of that. The
’Sco was thick with people already, with more people pooling
in all the time, and the instant the Portland, Ore., duo strutted
on stage, the notion of a tidy, reserved show went out the window.
Demands from the MCs to the audience to throw their hands up were
greeted with initial enthusiasm, but the flurry of arms got cut
down little by little by audience fatigue, even as the lyricists
kept their delivery sharp, their energy high, and their beats, administered
by Kutmaster Kurt, energetic. The duo’s bare-basics production,
positive message and high energy were met with enthusiasm each time
the team ended a song, but the audience seemed to have overestimated
how much they could give, and once the Lifesavaz exited, the crowd
almost looked spent. More bodies seemed to shift toward the bar,
and the water fountain also saw increased action.
The next act, BukueOne, was, mercifully, the hurricane’s eye
— more influenced by reggae roots than by classic hip-hop
in tempo, the audience enjoyed both the set’s content and
its slower pace, and showed generous approval of both when he exited
the stage. But the break between BukueOne and the next act, Skhoolyard,
was the last the audience would be allowed all night. Skhoolyard
exploded on stage, and through the beginning of their set, only
a brave and athletic few could keep up with the relentless pace
that MC’s Kubiq, Planet Asia, Shake da Mayor, 1201 and Supah
Supreme threatened to bring the house down with.
For a while, it looked like the audience had simply been conquered
by the show’s energy, but as Skhoolyard barreled into the
second half of their set, a change began. At one point, the crew
got a call and response going that had everybody in the audience
flying up and down to the thunderous low end coming out of the speakers,
and the energy stayed up from there on out. Planet Asia ensured
that the crowd would stay with his crew for the rest of their set
by kicking off an anthemic joint (no pun intended) whose chorus
(“Roll that shit, light that shit, smoke it!”) got the
loudest response of the night. And as the night’s most boisterous
act left the stage after performing their single, “Fashion
Show,” it was clear that the audience was tired of feeding
off the performers — they were going to give something back.
Almost the second that Skhoolyard left the stage, People Under the
Stairs were up and running, and the crowd was keeping up. The L.A.
group had the benefit of a larger fan base than any of the two preceding
acts (people had come all the way from Kent State to see them),
but their mix of huge beats, uncanny turntable work and precision
rhymes had the crowd at their mercy.
Thes-One even sang a little, during which lighters were raised,
and a kind of hip-hop sing-along started. By this time, the number
of people hiding on the sides of the stage had dropped, and nearly
everyone was enjoying the show in their own way. Heads adorned with
tams bobbed right along faux-hawks, Timbs stepped alongside Chucks
and everyone was on the same page.
Faint glimmers of hip-hop’s separation from the exclusive,
misogynistic musical flash in the pan it is often perceived as had
begun to emerge from the show, but the glimmers turned to bright
light almost as soon as the show’s headliner, Del the Funky
Homosapien, took the stage. Dressed in a Spider-Man sweatshirt,
a red do-rag, Hollywood sunglasses and rocking a variety of facial
piercings, the Oakland native looked a far cry from the hip-hop
superhero he was received as. But the Funky Homosapien’s almost
nonstop set, which included work from his Gorillaz and Deltron 3030
projects in addition to his solo projects, was totally true to hip-hop’s
cornerstones and ideals. The work was unabashedly creative, with
Del using his rhymes to convey both who he was and what he believed.
As the evening drew to a close, the ’Sco looked like some
kind of snapshot of a hip-hop party from the mid-’80s: inside
the dimly lit, graffiti-covered walls, there were kids breaking
in one corner, kids of all ages and persuasions getting down on
the dance floor, doing whatever made them happy, the air above the
mass of bodies thick with a canopy of shaking hands. “Y’all
are representin’ the fuck outta yourselves,” Del’s
sideman said with a smile. Flattering as the exaltation was, his
sideman was only half-right. The audience was only proving true
Shake da Mayor’s axiom. That night, the Cali Comm Tour had
communicated their pure, unadulterated love of hip hop to Oberlin
College. And Oberlin College was joyously communicating it back.